By Col. Henry D. Paxson, Holicong, PA
It is a source of great gratification for me, on this occasion, on behalf of the good people of Buckingham, to bid the members and friends of the Bucks County Historical Society, a hearty welcome to the Empire township. All lovers of local history commend the good work being done by this society in rescuing from oblivion many interesting facts and much history of our county that would otherwise have been lost to the present as well as the future generations, and we should express our approbation for the valuable service rendered to this end by Messrs. Davis, Paschall, Turner, Smith, Yerkes, Chapman, Wright, Mercer, Laubach, Bailey, Michener, Buck and many others. To the press of our county, principally through our worthy president and secretary, we are much indebted for publishing the many valuable papers read before the society from time to time. This, besides awakening an interest in the subject, has done much to preserve these valuable articles, and I trust the day is not far distant when some generous and broad-minded citizen of our county will donate a sufficient fund to our society to enable it to publish all of these valuable papers in book form and thereby put them in proper shape for preservation for all time to come. There is an eminent fitness for this meeting to be held at this place, for we are truly upon historical ground; not made memorable by any achievements in armed conflict for mastery, but rather by deeds of peace enunciated by Pennsylvania’s founder and great law-giver. As the eye takes in the great panorama of the valley and the wooded slopes outlining its western border, our minds naturally revert to the changed conditions which two centuries of civilization have wrought. Let us look back to the period when our early pioneers halted by the way at Newtown, while others pushed up through the woods of Wrightstown and scaled our mountain to behold this land of promise. It was not the land spoken of in the Scripture which the children of Israel were led to view, but not allowed to enter. On the contrary, they came with passports that gave to them a lasting heritage. What a wonderful world of beauty met the pioneers’ enraptured gaze as from the mountain top their eyes rested on this beautiful valley clothed in primeval forest of oak, hickory and walnut, and broken only here and there by small clearings where the aborigines practiced their rude forms of agriculture. The smoke yet ascended from the wigwam of the Indian at Holicong and the bright waters of Lahaska creek rippled over its pebbly bed, on whose bank the Lenni Lenape with his bow and quiver startled the wild deer from its repose. Is it any wonder that the pioneers here rested, that here they built their meetinghouse and homes? Among the number who took title from Penn were the following: Thomas Bye, 600 acres; James Streator, 500 acres; Thomas Parsons, 500 acres; John Reynolds, 900 acres and Richard Lundy, 1,000 acres. To one standing on Buckingham Mountain the eye covers all of these various tracts. Down to 1700 little inroad had been made upon the forest, and upon the heavy timber the woodman’s axe made slow progress. It was not long after the first purchasers that others joined therein and a new era of prosperity, civilization and refinement was inaugurated. The soil was found to be unsurpassed in fertility, and the melodies of wood and stream brought the Prestons, Canbys, Parrys, Larges, Andersons, Elys, Fells, Paxsons and others, and the large tracts were divided and subdivided to suit the views of purchasers. The opening up of the Old York road and the Durham road which cross at Centreville also turned the tide of travel thitherward, and was one of the forerunners of civilization. A place of worship always makes an important mark in the history of a community, but it was not until 1720 that a Monthly Meeting of Friends was established at Buckingham. The early settlers were mainly Friends or people inclined that way as distinguished from Church people, and were, previous to this time, a part of the Falls Meeting. History has it recorded that occasionally the trip was made on foot; if so, it was a religion of sacrifice and not an easy-going one as now. The first meetinghouse was built of logs, in 1705, and in a few years it was found insufficient to accommodate the largely increased membership of worshipers and a larger one, also of logs, was built near the site of the old one. This took fire in 1768, while the meeting was in session, and in 1769 was built the present house as we now find it. Thomas Canby, of Thorn, Yorkshire, England, came over with Penn, and was the first clerk, and he and his descendants served in that capacity for a period of one hundred years. The late Thomas Paxson was the last in the line, his grandfather, also Thomas, having married a daughter of Thomas Canby. Friend Canby was no ordinary man, and to him was due in no small measure the growth and prosperity of this particular meeting. He lived many years where we now find Samuel and Joseph Anderson, and was the father of seventeen children. The name is not common at present, but this is accounted for from the fact that a large portion of the family were girls and that they had a fashion in those days, as now, of changing their names in early girlhood, as good offers presented. Thus the name was lost; not so the blood; a proportionate quantity yet remains, is carried down the stream of time, and the pulse will register its ebb and flow to the latest generation. What hallowed memories cling around this historic old meetinghouse! In the Revolution its roof sheltered the sick and wounded soldier, while its old casements have resounded with the sharp report of the flint lock or the measured tread of the guard. And how rich and rare in remembrance of many sunny and sad scenes of both bridals and burials are those quaint old walls as they stand festooned in stern and strict simplicity. Here most of the marriage happenings of this section were consummated. On one October day in 1824, four parties knotted the golden tie that binds two willing hearts. They were Dr. John Wilson and Mary Fell, Samuel Eastburn and Mary Carver, Joseph Lewis and Ann Saul and Daniel Smith and Hannah Betts. Daniel Smith long survived all the others and his decease took place very recently.
The ancient horse-blocks are living sentinels of by-gone days when men and women came to meeting on horseback and made use of them in mounting and dismounting, and those majestic old oaks have stood ward and watcher around the old edifice through many generations of worshipers. Here, too, we find the old graveyard wherein are gathered many generations of our forefathers. From 1700 to 1800 there was no other burial ground for many miles around, and here it may be truthfully said: “. Each in his narrow cell forever laid the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” The schoolhouse, too, close by, has strong claims to memory, for here, under such able instructors as Joseph Fell, William H. Johnson and Thomas Paxson, many men who have since risen to eminence received their early education. While the yellow fever prevailed in Philadelphia, in 1793, Jesse Blackfan and Benjamin Ely, merchants of that city, brought their goods up to this school-house, and in the second story opened and kept store until they felt safe in returning to the city. It is also memorable as being the place where the first agricultural society of this county was organized. And so the old edifice has claims historical as well as classical. While we cannot in this paper mention all of the events which have made this valley historical, or call to mind all the men who have shed lustre on this county, yet here is a rather remarkable coincidence which must not escape our observation. On yonder slope an unpretending farmhouse registers the birthplace of ex-Chief Justice Edward M. Paxson. Upon an adjoining farm Justice D. Newlin Fell first saw the light of day. Still in front of them, with but a small farm intervening, we find the birthplace of the late Judge Richard Watson. All three were reared upon the farm and knew little or nothing of college life, but drank in from Nature’s fountain and our common school the elements of success in life; who will say that the Empire township has not a prolific soil? The old York road over which many of you traveled in coming to this meeting is full of historic interest and covered by long years of travel when it was the great thoroughfare between Philadelphia and New York. Along this road ran the great swift sure four-horsed mail and passenger coach thundering along all weathers and roads, rocking and surging on her leather suspenders. Now she sticks in the mud-all out-Heave Oh! and onward we go, warranted withal with many relays of horses to go through in three days. What mighty changes in travel since then, and yet it is only about fifty years since the sight was familiar. Now we run sitting still and fly without wings. A traveler going through Buckingham valley, on the New Hope cannon ball express, recently remarked that he saw two objects: two haystacks, and they were both going the other way. Nor was the old stagecoach the only line of travel that has made old roadway famous. It was a common carrier-an artery as it were-that supplied the life blood to Philadelphia. Long lines of white tented wagons, filled with farm products from upper Bucks and New Jersey, found out roads to meet their wants. They, however, like the stage line, have been withdrawn and gone into history. General Washington likewise passed along this road with his army of men on his way from Valley Forge to the ferry at New Hope after stopping over night at the town of Doyle. Centreville, at the intersection of the York and Durham roads, and in the line of vision from the Wolf Rocks, is an old hamlet replete with historic interest. It was on Monday morning, September Io, 1737, at 7 o’clock that a picturesque group passed through this village on the line of what is now the Durham road. The party consisted of Timothy Smith, Sheriff of Bucks county, assisted by Benjamin Eastburn, Surveyor General, and two deputies, Nicholas Scull and John Chapman, who, with three Indians, accompanied Edward Marshall, James Yates and Scionon Jennings on the famous walk to define the boundary of land released by the Indians to the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania. We have no record that the party stopped at the old hostelry for refreshments and therefore presume that Sheriff Smith had anticipated the wants of the walkers and sent the provender along in advance. Next in importance to the old meetinghouse, Righter’s Hotel at Centreville has probably more of historic interest connected with it than any other building in the township, and if its ancient walls could speak what a tale they could unfold. This old hostelry dates back far beyond the Revolution, and at that trying period of our country’s history was known as “Bogart’s Tavern.”
There General Greene had his headquarters, and its hospitable roof sheltered the great and good Washington on the many occasions he passed through our township on the mission of his country. There was the recruiting station, and there many a poor fellow shouldered the flintlock and bade adieu to friends and family for the chances of war, and never returned to relate the story of his privations and suffering. There the “Bucks County Committee of Safety” was organized, and many of its most important meetings held.
What a picture could be painted of this old inn. Fancy a little band of patriotic farmers gathered there late at night laying their rude plans for the defence of their country. Now there is a pause in their deliberations-each man grasps his flintlock for without, there is borne on the midnight air the noisy clatter of horses’ hoofs hurrying down the Durham road. In fear and breathless silence they wait until the sound is lost in the distance of the mountain. Now they breathe a sigh of relief for well they knew it was Moses Doan and his band of Tory outlaws!
These are a few of the many incidents of history connected with the environments of our meeting to-day, which afford a rich field for the historian, and which the limits of time allow but a passing reference by way of a prelude or introduction to what is announced in the program as “The Hermit of the Wolf Rocks.”
In the year 1709, Joseph Large, the great-grandfather of Albert Large, the Hermit and subject of this sketch, attracted by the many inducements offered to agriculturists in the Buckingham valley, for it was then beautiful as now, purchased of Richard Lundy, for the consideration of £20, a tract of 100 acres of land, extending from the line of John Reynolds’ land on the Mountain, northward toward the York road, and was a part of the 1,000 acre tract which Richard Lundy purchased of one Jacob Telnor. He also purchased of Samuel Blaker in 1759 a tract of 50 acres adjoining for £238. It will be noted there was a large increase in land values in 50 years.
Joseph Large in his will, dated May 10, 1784, among other things devised to his son, John Large, his farm containing 150 acres, and extending from the Old York road on the north, to the Reynolds line on the Mountain, on the south. The Reynolds line is but a few rods south of Wolf Rocks, where the present meeting is held. John Large died February 2, 1794, leaving a widow, Rachel Large, and seven children, Jonathan, William, Samuel, (born December 6, 1775) John, Achilles, Elizabeth and Sarah, to whom the farm descended. In the partition made in 1799, a tract containing 122 acres (and covering the Wolf Rocks) was adjudged to Samuel Large, the Hermit’s father. Standing at the Wolf Rocks the whole tract lies before you. Here Samuel Large pursued his occupation as an agriculturist, but what made him. famous was his skill as a foxhunter. His appointments for the chase were the best, and his well trained hounds and fleet steed that knew no fence as a barrier, won the admiration of all beholders. It was a gala day on the hunt when Large with his aids, the Elys and Byes, gave chase. Foxes were then abundant and their runways covered a large territory of wooded tracts. Buckingham and Solebury mountains, Bowman’s hill and Jericho mountain were favorable haunts of sly Reynard, and however hotly pursued seldom failed to cover his retreat. Even in this day an occasional fox is seen on the mountain, but the baying of the hounds and the horn’s clear notes on moonlight nights are no longer heard in the valley. Of the children of Samuel Large the most conspicuous were Joseph and Albert, the former as teacher at the old Tyro Hall school, in Buckingham, and afterwards as an Episcopal clergyman in the far West, and the latter whose remarkable case of seclusion has made his name historic and won for him the worldwide notoriety as the most celebrated hermit of modern times. We have no data to fix the exact year of Albert Large’s birth, but circumstances lead to the belief it was about the year 1805. Of his childhood and training there is little reliable information now known other than his general dislike for restraint and confinement. The schoolroom was no place for him and books at this period of his life were an abomination. The late Joseph Fell, with all his skill as an able and successful instructor, was unable to distill in the mind of this pupil, “Bert” Large, a liking for books. Playing truant was not unknown to him and the wilds of Buckingham Mountain were his delight. Here, like a child of nature, he would wander for days at a time through the shady woods admiring the wildflowers that grew unrestrained along those leafy isles or listened to the wood birds’ sweet but plaintive note. Then when worn out he would recline on some mossy rock and dreamily watch the fleecy clouds floating along the blue firmament until lulled to sleep by the gentle sighing of the winds through the mountain oak. Thus passed his boyhood days and when early manhood arrived a train of events occurred that may have changed his purpose and turned his whole after life into the sad but interesting and romantic story we find it. Affliction came upon the family and the pale messenger bore his loved mother, Elizabeth, across the river which separates us from the long hereafter. However much it may have borne heavily on them at the time. The father’s tears were few and brief For he woo’d and won another, But ever before the eyes of the son, Came the image of his mother. It does not appear that the introduction of the new mother, Mary Dean, added to his home attractions, for now he is known to have absented himself from home for long periods. Yet as the sunshine that dispels the clouds is the brightest, so the joy that follows grief is often the sweetest. Tender words of sympathy and encouragement from a fair one of the valley did much to overcome his former griefs and trials. Here tradition broadly hints a love entanglement connected therewith. The valley then, as now, was the seat of beauty and refinement, and why should he escape the smiles that from time to time had led others captive. There was one above all others whose charms were proverbial. She was the grand luminary of attraction, the star at which all others knelt, whose smile was sweeter and whose silver laugh was merrier than all others as it rang among the sylvan bowers of Lahaska. That he aspired to her hand there is every reason to believe and that mutual love did not materialize is also known, but at whose hands the fault lies remains as yet an untold tale. A proper respect for the changed condition of things impels me to keep silent as to the name of the fair one. On what a slender cord sometimes hangs one’s future happiness and station in life. This second disappointment or lost hope turned him away from human society and for many years his abode was entirely unknown to his family or the outside world.
“He sought his new abode where moonlight’s wing
Curtained the sleeping valley far below,
And life to him seemed like a weary thing,
Lulled by the music of the winds so low.”
Sadly twisted and warped as his mind must have then been, yet in selecting the weird romantic Wolf Rocks as his abode he seems to have had an appreciation of nature left. The ponderous rocks forming the roof of his new home stand sentinels over the valley he loved so well. It was a fitting place for his retirement, for while giving an outlook upon the busy world, was comparatively secure from the steps of any intruder.
The mountain and rocks were less frequented then than now, and days and perhaps weeks passed without a traveler visiting them. While his family and friends thought him lost, yet here, amid the changing seasons, with storm and wild tempests sweeping the mountain’s height and valley below with its white mantle of snow, he was secure in his rocky castle. What must have been his thoughts as he sat near the entrance of his lonely cell at midday, and beheld his kindred tilling the soil and gathering the harvest in the same field where he was once a toiler, were known only to him. He was a silent watcher of all the improvement going on in the valley and little on the line of travel on the Old York road could have escaped his observation. His eye took in the quiet villages of Lahaska, Greenville and Centreville, the spires of Doylestown and the far-off Haycock mountain with its rounded and blue summit. Many years he thus lived unknown to the outside world. He must have sallied forth at times to gather in supplies to stock his larder, but this was doubtless after the tired farmer had sought repose and night had spread her mantle over mountain and valley. At length he became less careful to conceal his identity and made occasional visits to near villages. But how changed his appearance. His long growth of hair and beard flowing over his breast and shoulders left no semblance of “Bert” Large of the valley, and
“The very mother that him bare
Would not have known her child.”
At that period of his history, a few years before his discovery, he seems to have fallen into a very common but mistaken notion that to assuage grief or drown sorrow, a resort to the intoxicating bowl would give relief. Accordingly to the village inn went he with his little brown jug to be filled; but alas on his return home the jug or its contents became too heavy and he fell, not among thieves as of old, neither by the roadside, but upon a lime kiln’s summit. The light from the burning kiln in the darkness of the night had drawn him thither, and a chilly October air led him to take advantage of the warmth there afforded, unmindful of the danger of inhaling the noxious coal gas. In the morning he was found by one of the employees of the late William H. Johnson, the great philanthropist and reformer. The little brown jug, his companion of the previous night, was yet beside him but showed no signs of life, its spirits had departed, and it was thought at first that those of the traveler had shared the same fate. Not so, however, for friend Johnson acted the part of a good Samaritan, had him removed to his house nearby and the work of resuscitation commenced. Mr. Johnson, in writing of this incident some years ago, says:
“One of the hands brought intelligence, early in the morning, that a man was lying at the top of one of the kilns then on fire, and that he believed him to be dead. We went to the place and found the person still in the same position as when first seen. His face was turned toward the heated stone forming the top, and upon examination it showed a livid paleness. His eyes were entirely closed. A close inspection showed a slight breathing at long intervals. The kiln at the time being in full blast and having been on fire for more than a day, the carbonic gas was passing off very freely from the vent at the top, and the man having his face very near this opening had imbibed the noxious vapor until his lungs were now incapable of performing their office. A phial of hartshorne was at once applied to his nostrils. This very soon gave evidence that his lungs were yet capable of inhaling, although they had suffered a temporary paralysis. His breathing soon became improved, and it was not long before the whole body gave increased signs of animation. He sat up and preparations were soon making for a cup of coffee and some other refreshments. He showed no disposition to converse about his new abode or his singular nap, and, although his intended repast was nearly ready, he seized the momentary occasion of the person preparing it being absent from the room, to beat a hasty retreat. This was the last opportunity (until the time of his discovery), that presented of holding any intercourse with the man who obtained a distinction as the Hermit of the Wolf Rocks on Lahaska mountain.”
William H. Johnson was a near neighbor of Albert Large and had known him from childhood.
For some years after the incident just related Large was neither seen nor heard of until there came on Friday morning, April 9, 1858, the startling announcement of his discovery.
Discovery at the Wolf Rocks
The facts from well authenticated sources are as follows: On the morning of that day as William Kennard, a well-known colored man of this township, was passing along the foot of the Wolf Rocks, he observed smoke issuing from the rocks and heard a strange noise like the rattling of tinware; or to use his own words, “like the dragging of a kettle by a chain.” He became alarmed and ran to another part of the mountain to obtain the company of another colored man, Moses Allen, to go back with him and make some explorations.
The two men, armed with a crowbar, went back to the part of the rocks from which the strange sound emanated, and after making considerable explorations were about to abandon the enterprise, when it occurred to them that making a noise might bring the stranger to sight. They commenced boring the rock with a crowbar, which had the effect of bringing a voice from some hiding place which asked, “who is it and what do you want?” They proceeded to the cleft in the rock and after diligent search succeeded in finding an entrance to a room or cavern in which was a human being. Upon being asked to come out he refused to do so, and denied the obtruders admittance, threatening to “put balls through them both,” if they attempted to enter.
There had been so many strange rumors concerning the Wolf Rocks and their environments; their possible occupancy by a band of counterfeiters and outlaws; the story of the little girls who were gathering whortleberries or chestnuts near the rocks, and ran home alarmed, stating to their parents they had seen a man at the Wolf Rocks with a beard a yard long; another, that the human voice had frequently been heard there on moonlight nights, pouring forth a stream of wild and romantic melody when at the same time no person could be discovered from whom it could possibly have emanated. From these and other rumors the two men thought it unsafe to proceed further without reinforcements, and they accordingly secured the services of several stalwart men from the limestone quarries of the late Aaron Ely. The large party, plentifully armed with crowbars, churnaugurs, and other quarrymen’s tools, returned to the rocks and began the research. The sounding of heavy iron bars upon the rock roof of the cavern, with a huge fire at its entrance, and the loud voices of the quarrymen calling upon the occupant to come out, compelled him to yield, and he displaced the large stone that formed the door of his abode and reluctantly came forth. The exploring party were dumbfounded to find him to be the missing Albert Large. In appearance at that time he is described as a man about the average size, with rather round or drooping shoulders, over which fell long gray hair in profusion. His beard extended almost to his waist, and, with his ancient and tattered clothing and general unkempt appearance, he presented a picture of a veritable wild man. The exploring party having made a favorable impression on him by the promises that no injury should be done him, he at length became composed and gave them some account of his history and mode of living, and invited them to inspect his den. The cave was located about midway of the “Big Wolf Rocks” and a short distance below what is termed the “Wolf Hole,” a place that has been observed by all who have ever paid this wild spot a visit. The entrance was from the north side and could only be effected by going on all-fours. The first place they entered was his kitchen or culinary department. In it were found a rude fireplace, some pipe to carry off the smoke, several buckets, a powder keg with a leather strap for a handle, several tin pans, an iron pot for boiling his food and a number of minor cooking utensils. The next apartment was his sleeping room, which was separated from the kitchen by a rough mortar wall of his own construction. This room was not high enough for a man to walk erect, but when once ensconced therein, its occupant was pretty cozy and comfortable. It contained a pretty good mattress that served him as a bed, an old stool and a few other articles that made up his chamber suit. This room was so surrounded by board work and mortar that the penetration of dampness was impossible. Over the entrance leading to the cave was a large flat stone, which he rolled away at pleasure when he wanted to go out, and which was carefully replaced when he returned and wished to enter his sanctum. Altogether his cave was a place of some comforts, and to a man who wished to be secluded from the world was capable of being a resort of much happiness and pleasure. Large claimed he purchased his tobacco and some provisions at village stores several miles distant. This is probably true, but it was thought at that time that the balance of his provisions, such as apples, potatoes, turkeys, chickens, milk, and beef from the smokehouse were never paid for. He stated that one hard winter he was shut in his cave for six weeks, and that with the snow of an unknown depth above his cave and provisions and tobacco running low, the situation was anything but cheering.
During the summer season parties came to the rocks almost weekly and kept him pretty well posted as to the news in the valley. While he was in their very midst, as it were, and could hear all that was said, his presence was unknown to them. The natural armchair and sofa of stone, objects of rare curiosity, are close by his cave, and he heard much in the way of “billing and cooing” there happening.
The “Wolf Hole,” that dark recess, was visited by another class in nowise allied to those just alluded to, and while Large is not known to have disclosed the robberies and incendiaries there plotted, yet several parties of doubtful reputation found it convenient to move from the neighborhood shortly after his discovery.
At the time of his discovery considerable speculation existed in the public mind as to the length of time he had occupied this sequestered and secluded spot. To his captors, Large claimed a residence of forty years, but in this he must have been mistaken. The best and most reliable authorities in the valley at that time agreed that his helmit life was not over twenty years; perhaps about eighteen years, from the time he first entered the cave until his discovery in 1858.
The news of the discovery of the long-lost Albert Large and his cave spread like a forest fire, and the public curiosity was aroused by the circumstances so novel and mysterious. That a man had been living, summer and winter, for so many years, in a cavern of a rock, in sight of the heart of the valley, was too much for the credulity of the neighborhood. The Sunday following his discovery all avenues leading to the mountain were lined with vehicles heavily freighted with humanity, all bent on reviewing the great discovery. They came from Doylestown, New Hope, Lambertville, Flemington, and in short the whole region of country from Tinicum to Newtown. For many weeks the excitement was unabated, and the Wolf Rocks and hermit’s cave were the principal theme uppermost at inns and stores. Every article found in his cave was thoroughly inspected, and it was not long before everything there, even to the board lining and mortar wall, were carried away as relics by curious people.
Accounts of his finding were published far and wide at the time, and residents of our county when traveling in the far Western States have frequently been asked about the Buckingham hermit. Not only in our own land, but from far-off shores we find our transatlantic journals giving the matter great publicity. Some of them were wide of the mark in matters of actual fact, and to show how the story got mystified in crossing the ocean, we quote entire, as a matter of curiosity, an article printed at that time in the Guide, a paper published in London, England:
Discovery of A Hermit
“Hermits are things of the past, only to be found in story books, or old worm-eaten novels of the end of the last century, in which trap doors and caverns play a distinguished and lugubrious part. It is, therefore, with some little surprise that we have to record the following well authenticated story: There exists at a distance of some miles from Doyle’s Town, Pennsylvania, a mountain known as the Wolf Rock. Goats alone find pasture on its barren cliffs, and even they must be sadly starved to seek food upon these naked and jagged stone hills. A few weeks ago, however, two blacks from Doyle’s Town started in search of three stray goats, and tracked them to the foot of Wolf Rock. They had no alternative then but to scale the rugged mountain. It was no easy task, for the hunters had nearly all the time to crawl upon their hands and knees.
“Evening drew in, and yet there were no signs of more than one of the goats. They accordingly made up their minds to redescend, when their attention was attracted to a noise in some hollow of the hill. Negroes are naturally curious, while they even fancied they were upon the track of the two fugitives. They determined then, to explore further, and advanced towards the entrance of a mysterious-looking grotto. It was a narrow fissure, obstructed by roots and stones. After much exertion, one succeeded in crawling in upon his face; but just as his eyes were becoming used to the darkness, a voice from out of the gloom cried, “What do you want?’ The negro knew not what to say. He stammered out that he was looking for a goat. For some minutes there was no reply; then a mysterious voice cried out, “Wretch, you advance to your destruction. One step more, and you are a dead man.”
“The black could stand it no longer, but backed out as speedily as possible from the hollow, and rapidly regained Doyle’s Town, telling everybody he met that he had been face to face with the Prince of Darkness. Now, the inhabitants of Doyle’s Town are not superstitious, but they are curious. They accordingly determined to learn the truth. Plentifully supplied with arms, lanterns, &c., they surrounded the cavern, after lighting a great fire at its entrance. The supposed demon not liking to endure the fate of Marshall Pelissier’s Arabs, came forth. He was a man of herculean stature, clothed in skins of goats and foxes, with long hair and beard, and singularly wild eyes. He was at once made prisoner and his dwelling examined.
“It was a large grotto, divided into three compartments, lined with moss, and receiving light and air from above. There was a fireplace, a comfortable bed, and numerous remains of poultry were there, which explained the frequent and mysterious disappearance of fowls, &c., which had been noticed by the neighboring farmers for some years. Questioned as to his name and strange existence, the Sybarite hermit declared his name to be Albert Large. He assured his captors that for forty years he had dwelt in that retired cavern, never leaving it but at night to hunt for the poultry, goats and pigs on which he fed. A disappointment in love had driven him to his extremity. His brother, Joseph S. Large, is an eminent minister of the Episcopal church.”
Such, my hearers, are the stories, both authentic and apocrypal of Albert Large, the hermit, as I have gleaned them. After his discovery he lingered about the mountain but a short time, and on yonder rocky promentory he is said to have taken his farewell view of the beauty-woven valley, and bade a silent but mournful adieu to those weird and romantic rocks, endeared to him as a home through all the changing seasons of those many years of his life in solitude.
From thenceforth all traces of him and his later history have been lost. It was thought by some that he might have gone to another cave or hiding place somewhere along the banks of the river Schuylkill, but there is nothing to warrant such belief.
It is now 37 years since his departure, and if living he would be 90 years of age. It is most likely that long ago he paid the debt of nature, as his habits and mode of life were not calculated to lead beyond “the days of our years” as allotted by the Psalmist. Instances of a life like this are very rare, and if all were known of him, an interesting volume would be the meditations and reveries of Albert Large, the Hermit of the Wolf Rocks.
Source: Bucks County Historical Society. A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society, Volume 2, pp 231-246. Read before a meeting at Wolf Rocks, Buckingham, July 16, 1895.